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Having Hope

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Iruka yawned and rubbed exhaustedly at the bridge of his nose, made a small notation in the book he'd been reading, and closed the page. It had been a long day, with an unending litany of misbehaving children and tedious paperwork, followed by a briefing with both Hokage and the village elders.

He'd been exceedingly grateful for the ninety-minute reprieve Tsunade-sama had granted when it became clear they would all be working late into the night, and after a quick trip home for a shower and change of clothes, he'd made it to the hospital with an hour to spare.

These days, the ANBU guards stationed outside the small, private room allowed him entry without so much as a sideways glance; accustomed to both his presence and the light chatter in an otherwise silent room.

"You know…" Iruka pushed himself up from the worn leather chair he'd spent hours sitting in, and set the copy of Icha-Icha Paradise down in his place. "As far as confessions go, I figured it was about time I shared this one with you. It's a doozy," he continued, brushing a few errant, silver strands of hair from his silent companion's forehead. "Five years of continuous exposure and I'm afraid I can probably recite every volume of Icha-Icha verbatim. I'm not proud," he added with a huff. "Though I suspect you'll be gloating for weeks to come."

Smiling faintly at the thought, Iruka traced the peppered path of stubble along Kakashi's jaw with his thumb.

"I have to go," he sighed, reluctantly admitting time was up. "The elders are vying to cut the academy's budget, again, in favor of… actually, I'm not sure this time. Stopped listening an hour in." He laughed, careful not to jostle any of the tubes that kept his friend both breathing and fed. "Just another of your tactics I've enlisted since becoming principal, I guess."

Pausing in his ministrations, Iruka peered down into the slackened expression of the man he had once hoped to call his lover. He looked almost child-like this way; innocent in a way he'd never been before. Not while awake.

They'd been so close back then, the best of friends, inseparable when duty allowed and if not for… well, that didn't particularly matter, did it.? Not now.

Kakashi saved his teammate's life at the risk of his own, and there was no point in mourning what might have been. What they might have been.

Canting forward, Iruka's lips ghosted over Kakashi's temple.

"Won't you wake up?" he whispered. It was the same question he'd been asking for the worst part of half a decade; every day, every night, just before he'd leave.

Waiting, Iruka took the older man's hand into his own and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Silence and the calm susurration of regulated breathing were his only answer.

"I'll be back later tonight and we'll see what we can do about this old-man beard you seem intent on growing." Iruka filled the void with inured chatter, releasing his hold as he moved off to re-shelve Kakashi's favorite volume of the Icha-Icha series.

"Hinata-chan will be here in an hour or two, or possibly three—one can never tell with those twins of hers. They're certainly living up to their Uzumaki-namesake, that's for sure." He continued, collecting his satchel of paperwork from beside the leather chair as he prepared to leave. "She says you'll only need another three sessions before both visual receptors and chakra pathways will be inaccessible to the sharingan, which should forestall the strain on your system…"

Or so he'd been told by not one, nor two, but three medics. Three of Konoha's best medics in and out of the field. He trusted their word, two having been his students, once, long ago. The third being his Hokage.

"I know we've said this all before, but Tsunade-sama truly believes this will work. That without the constant draining of chakra to impede the healing process… well, you should… she says you'll…" he swallowed convulsively and released a shaky breath.

"I have to have hope," Iruka whispered fiercely, pulling up beside Kakashi's bed and leaning down to press one last chaste kiss against the prone man's temple. "Please, don't fault me for that."

He walked towards the door, pausing just as his fingers clasped the handle. "One day soon Kakashi, I'll ask you to wake up… and you will."

Iruka had hope.

Fragile as it was.